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EU begins bloc talks with Albania, N. Macedonia

July 19, 2022

The European Union has reignited membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia despite geopolitical uncertainty in the region. This marks a historic moment for the Western Balkans.

Ursula von der Leyen and the prime ministers of North Macedonia and Albania shake hands
The negotiations will cover 35 different chapters ranging from environmental rights to measures against corruptionImage: Dursun Aydemir/AA/picture alliance

North Macedonia and Albania opened accession talks with the European Union on Tuesday after years of setbacks and letdowns.

Any expansion of the world's largest trade bloc is likely to take years, and both countries have already been considered potential candidates since 2003.

What caused the delay? 

The delay was partly due to a long-running dispute between Bulgaria and North Macedonia, which had served as an effective roadblock to EU membership talks.

At the weekend, North Macedonia agreed to a proposal that would protect the Bulgarian minority in the country, allowing for membership talks to restart.

Ursula von der Leyen, Petr Fiala, Edi Rama, Dimitar Kovacevski in Brussels
EU Commission head Ursula von der Leyen and the leaders of North Macedonia, Albania and the Czech Republic met in BrusselsImage: Dursun Aydemir/AA/picture alliance

What happens next? 

The negotiations are set to be drawn out, as 35 different chapters ranging from environmental rights to measures against corruption will need to be agreed upon. 

The official process was started by a presentation on the negotiation framework and will be followed by the EU head office screening how well both of the Western Balkan nations are prepared to take on laws, rules and regulations of the union.

Historic moment for the Western Balkan nations 

"Today, Albania and North Macedonia open accession negotiations with the EU. This historic moment is your success. The result of your hard work," said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

She warmly congratulated Prime Ministers Dimitar Kovacevski of Macedonia and Edi Rama of Albania.

"This is what your citizens have been waiting for for so long and have been working for so hard, and this is what they deserve," said von der Leyen. 

Why is this happening now? 

The negotiations come at a critical time for the EU, as officials reach out to war-torn Ukraine to offer it potential membership despite stalling the inclusion of the Western Balkan nations for nearly two decades.

Russia's war in Ukraine has increased the strategic importance of the Western Balkans to the EU, which is seeking to prevent the growth of Moscow's influence in the region.

US President Joe Biden welcomed the opening of accession talks with Albania and Macedonia, saying Russian aggression has made an integrated Europe "more important than ever."

"A democratic, secure, and prosperous Western Balkans remains essential to this vision," Biden said in a statement.

However, a growing nationalist movement in North Macedonia could threaten to upend the process, as anti-European voices gain traction and fuel the flames of unrest in much of the Balkan region.

fb, los/aw (AFP, Reuters, dpa)